Prior to 1920, the Earl Auto Works was billed as the largest auto concern west of the Mississippi.

The 1927 tragedy of Billy, Harley and Sue's first born child, was a game-changer in the family.

The 1927 tragedy of Billy, Harley and Sue's first born child, was a game-changer in the family.

The Earl automotive story didn’t begin with Harley, but rather with his father, Jacob W. (J.W.) Earl, a late 19th Century coach builder, who started the family’s auto heritage in 1889 — seven years before Henry Ford built his first car in 1896; see a four-part online series on the Earl's "California Years” at theoldmotor.com. No wonder J.W.'s great-grandson Richard Earl has so much auto passion, he is part of an automotive legacy that’s one of America’s oldest. Shaping up a book, he says, “The untold story is an eye-opening trek.”



Who was the team leader behind the largest industrial company in the world built through design leadership? With all its major ups and downs, General Motors still remains this nation's largest car company. The following quote from a "Best of America" news article sets the record straight behind the founder of Detroit's Dependency on Design, "His drive to execute his vision turned Harley Earl into a car industry disruptor, 70 years before disruptors became cool. GM's competitors didn't want to redesign their cars every year. But Harley Earl's success forced them to."  

The innovative team of leaders at GM during the mid-twentieth century stood behind Pioneer-Earl and created the modern Car Design soul that in tune helped forge the meteoric rise of today's global automotive economy.  

From university students to Vietnam veterans to Fortune 500 executives and Nonprofits, the story behind this American auto heritage is as important as it is inspiring.


Leno kicks off this episode saying, "The most famous car in the history of General Motors, if not the United States."

Harley Earl at GM Styling in Argonaut Bldg.

Harley J. Earl (HJE) didn't become America's Car Design Pioneer without fighting, and winning, against legions of traditional Detroit engineers and finance guys. What was his ongoing career goal? Building 10s of millions of sexy intoxicatingly elaborate hi-tech beautiful vehicles. Doing so landed him in the rarefied spot of becoming known as the global auto industry's first design superstar who turned car designers into the rock stars of the auto industry. Leslie M. Kendall, chief curator of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, Ca. accurately credits him for another milestone that may well be the icing on the cake of his untold story,  "Harley J. Earl is one of the most hotly collected artists of the 20th Century, whose name is ironically often unknown among collectors of his work." 

Car-architect-Earl was the first person to bridge the art world to mass production in the auto industry and this pioneering engineer of desire called it, “the Modern Art of Industry.” Through Harley's studio doors rolled the cars that would ignite a nation's love affair with the automobile, establishing Detroit as the auto design capital of the world, creating a huge contemporary art market, and enabling the auto industry to become mid-twentieth-century America’s economic backbone.

Harley's accolades are as numerous as they are diverse: inventing the concept car, being the first to use full-size clay modeling, fathering the Corvette, hiring and advancing women car designers, first hands-free autonomous cars, creating the landmark Car Design Scholarship program, and supplying the auto design curriculum to such universities as Art Center College of Design and Pratt Institute. 

HJE's Independent Design Firm

Giant manufacturers turned to the man who created
"Detroit's Dependency on Design" to style their products.

Learn More →

Foundation of CDP  

By 1969, most top auto execs knew HJE invented the Car Design Profession; find out how & why this changed over time. 

Go to the Page →